Student body survey analyzes voting practices

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April 19, 2011

2:53 AM

Scott Foster ’10 shook up Williamsburg city politics when he was elected to the Williamsburg City Council last spring, and a recently released survey of the student body offers insight into how he made it happen.

The 2010 student Body Survey, created by government professor Ron Rapoport, analyzed student attitudes before, during and after the Scott Foster campaign at the College of William and Mary. Rapoport worked in collaboration with Kira Allmann ’10, Daniel Maliniak ’06 and Patrick Miller ’02 to create, distribute and analyze the survey.

“We are seeing how a political campaign mobilized people in sort of a closed setting of the College,” Rapoport said. “This election provided a unique opportunity to look at a group that would comprise a very large percentage of Scott’s voters and to look at a closed community and sort of the social networks within that community.”

The 2010 survey analyzed trends in the Scott Foster City Council campaign election. Findings ranged from the importance of using social networking sites like Facebook to mobilize voters to the incentive for voting and the importance of certain issues.

“[The goal was] understanding William and Mary students, where they stand politically, what sorts of issues are important to them, where they stand on certain issues,” Rapoport said. “The other thing was understanding the makeup of social networks.”

One of the key findings of the survey was the importance of social networking sites in mobilizing voters, specifically Facebook. One of the top ways in which students demonstrated support of Foster was through “liking” his Facebook page and view in campaign activities online.

“By far the most significant Facebook activity was becoming a Facebook fan, giving you information about things going on,” Rapoport said. “There was a lot of contact in the campaign, and on election day, there was a huge amount of contact. 37 percent got emails and 35 percent of voters got messages on Facebook.”

The results emphasized Facebook’s importance in the political campaign and sparked Rapoport’s creation of a fourth survey, which will be released this week. This survey, available one year after the Foster campaign, will analyze the importance of social networking in politics on a smaller scale.

“We don’t know a lot about how social networking decides our views for politics. No one has taken social networking and politics seriously and tried to get some hard data about it,” Miller said. “Our main goal is to try and get an understanding of how much it is being used for politics.”

Miller began working on the project with Rapoport a year and a half ago, before the Foster campaign began.

“It was a great opportunity to be able to put together some data that really nobody was ever able to compile,” Miller said. “I realized that this was going to be a great opportunity to actually study our campaign in a relatively closed and clean environment.”

The Scott Foster campaign created a unique opportunity to analyze student attitudes and voting trends on a much smaller scale.

“It was a nice dynamic to study because there was a small electorate; the professor knew some of the students involved in the campaign,” Miller said. “As a result, he had the opportunity to get a lot of campaign records for the Scott Foster campaign. You almost never get contact records for campaigns, and even if you do, it is hard to survey voters.”

The survey also asked students to indicate their level of satisfaction with various campus and local groups, including the College faculty, the Student Assembly, the administration and the William and Mary Police Department.

“The fact that the faculty was rated higher by the students than the Student Assembly was interesting,” Rapoport said. “You really get a feel for the antipathy of the city council and the police. The Student Assembly is not rated that high compared to the administration.”

When it came to the importance of political issues for students voting in the Scott Foster campaign, most voters believed that having a student on city council was more significant than individual issues.

“It is certainly the case that having a student on the city council was more important than the noise ordinance, the four person rule, really than anything in stimulating the student vote,” Rapoport said.

Students were asked to participate in the survey via email, and a gift card lottery was held in order to encourage students to take it.

“I feel like if the survey can then reflect even the smallest amount of my opinion then that is great,” Frank Enriquez ’13 said. “I thought the questions were well-crafted, [but] not that they were targeted. He did a very good job phrasing the question.”

The results and trends of the survey may be applicable on a larger scale, according to Miller.

“[It’s] nothing as big or important as a presidential or congressional campaign, but it still tells us a lot about campaigns,” Miller said. “We are finding large effects of campaign contact.”

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